McArthur Taylor, age 26, sits pensively at a restaurant in the Monrovian suburb of Sinkor. Clad in black denim trousers with matching Air Jordan sneakers and a purple T shirt, he listened via phone as the appeals chamber in the Netherlands upheld the conviction and sentence of 50 years of imprisonment against his father, Charles Taylor, the former president of Liberia. He sips from a can of Rox Energy Drink. A hammering downpour of rain falls.
The judgment was delivered by the appeals chamber of the Special Court for Sierra Leone in The Hague. The former Liberian president had challenged his war crimes conviction, with his lawyers arguing that at the original trial, the prosecution had made errors in the evaluation of evidence and in the application of the law governing what constitutes "aiding and abetting"—errors they hoped were sufficiently serious to "reverse all findings of guilt entered against him." And yet on Thursday the court upheld its ruling, holding Taylor accountable for war crimes committed by rebel forces during the Sierra Leone civil war, which over 11 years resulted in the deaths of 70,000 people. Those war crimes include murder, rape, sexual slavery, and forced amputations. This is the first time since the Nuremberg Trials of World War II that a former head of state has been found guilty of war crimes by an international court.
“Today is a sad day for me,” Taylor’s son laments. “My dad will be in prison for the rest of his life—how do I cope with that?”
McArthur is one of the many children the former Liberian president, now 64 years old, fathered with one of the many women he married. (Taylor himself was an open polygamist and on many occasions he encouraged Liberian men to take up multiple wives.) McArthur bears a striking resemblance to his father, and could be mistaken for his twin. “I hope he gets treated fairly to where he is going because I’m not going to see him again,” he says. “I really wish they really knew daddy up close and personal. All of what they are projecting of him out there is far from the truth.”
McArthur says he believes the trial of his father was nothing but a circus, a theme similarly echoed by Taylor during his trial. “They lied on my father because he stepped on their toes. My father didn’t aid or abet anything. Charles Taylor stood for justice, nothing else. People misconstrue things.”
“They said my dad is monster but as far I know, he was a loving dad,” he reminisced. “A loving dad cannot be a monster. A loving dad will not sponsor insurgency like they claimed. It may sound unbelievable to you but I wish you had spent a moment around him to really know the person he is. You know it really baffles me when they say all these terrible things about my father.”
Anticipating a lesser sentence or a non-guilty verdict, members and associates of Taylor held a prayer service at the Dominion Christian Church on the Saturday before the conviction was upheld. McArthur says he doesn’t regret attending the prayer service, where they prayed for God’s divine intervention in the verdict, even though things turned out the opposite as they had hoped. “You know man proposes and God disposes. I guess God wants my dad to spend the rest of his life being alone. If he [God] didn’t, we would have gotten a different verdict at this moment.”
In downtown Monrovia on Carey Street, businesses were going on as normal—unlike on April 26, 2012, when the city was polarized as the court handed down its first verdict. Amos Kokou, a street hawker, was caught unaware on the issue of Taylor’s verdict. “I have forgotten that today is the main day,” he says, quickly focusing his attention to an approaching customer. As the customer turned away, he says that as far as he was concerned it had been over for Taylor since when he received the first verdict last year. “Who can go against America and win? Taylor acted rude on his big brother [United States] and we all know that when you act rude on your older brother, they will punish you.” Kokou, like many other Liberians, believes that the trial wasn’t fair.
“We know that Charles Taylor didn’t sponsor any war in Sierra Leone,” he continued. “They’re accusing Taylor of being the mastermind behind the chopping off Sierra Leoneans’ arms, which is totally untrue. If Taylor was behind that, we were going to see it in Liberia—how many people do you see around here with arms chop off? These people are lying on Charles Taylor. The Sierra Leoneans are responsible for their own problem.”
Not everyone shares the sentiment of Amos, including Elfreida Dahn, another street vendor. “The bible says no sin goes unpunished. Taylor killed lot of people here and he thought he could get away of it. The Liberian people didn’t punish him but God had bigger plans for him,” she says with streak of laughter.
The Liberian Government is yet to issue a statement on the verdict.